Watch night, Dec. 31, 1862, the eve of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, to go into effect the first day of the new year, was met with great anticipation and hope as the country was in the midst of a bloody Civil War.
My ancestors, enslaved Blacks, or better known during this period as American Negroes, gathered on the plantations and by the rivers and in their respective churches in the South to prepare for the beginning of their march for this newfound freedom after being in bondage for 244 years. The word of freedom would not reach the state of Texas until more than two years later.
On this date (June 19, 1865) we as African Americans celebrate General Order No. 3 given by Civil War Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger at Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas, which states, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former Masters and Slaves.”
I have often thought of this day, of what my forefathers and foremothers must have felt seeing white and Black Union soldiers on horseback with the American Union flag waving in the air on that warm summer’s day, the tears and pure joy as the chains being removed from their necks and the shackles from their ankles being removed, certainly overwhelmed their spirits in a euphoria of happiness they’ve never known, the first taste of freedom in this new land since leaving the shores of West Africa.
This moment 156 years ago lives in spirit for every African American living “to this day” as the children of our former enslaved fore parents. Juneteenth, or our “Jubilee Day,” reminds us to continue to press forward and not to give up hope in reference to America and this nation, knowing that one day coming soon we will achieve what was written by Gen. Granger that we will obtain and achieve absolute equality for all.
In the coming weeks, we will celebrate the birth of the United States of America on July 4, remembering the very first Independence Day from 1776. On this night, my ancestors were in their slave cabins and shacks on the plantations of the antebellum South, not being able to participate in the celebrations of America becoming a new nation, the beauty and excitement of the fireworks they heard and saw in the air and the loud gunshots, with screams of jubilation from the large crowds over defeating the British.
This very moment gave our ancestors the very real sense of hope of freedom, that would come for them one day. Some 89 years later, God answered their prayer, in the midst of sweltering hostility during the Civil War, Juneteenth and Jubilee were born.
I’m greatly optimistic and hopeful that the period of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery can encourage us all. That we, the American people, will endure and make it through this very difficult and challenging period that we are currently facing.
With all the storms of division and racial tensions, my prayer for the country as a pastor is that we will seek to find common ground and take a moment of pause from the shouting, fighting, rioting and disrespectful behavior on both sides of the aisle, both Democrat and Republican, and realize that we are living on a land that is so blessed and fruitful. Regardless of our current social condition, whether we are rich, poor, formerly enslaved or immigrant we must step back and appreciate this great land of America.
Our goal as a country must be clear to be “One nation under God, indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All.” Once we all achieve this goal, then we can have a more perfect Union. America is sacred soil, with all the bloodshed in the name of freedom, something that we must all hold dear.
In honor of Juneteenth, I am asking the leaders of our nation to reflect on how far we have come as a nation, and not to turn back the clock on voting rights, human rights, race relations and civil rights. As African Americans, our cry for our absolute freedom, for economic justice, restoration and full honored citizenship, must be dealt with if we are all to live on this land peacefully, something our leadership and the American people must face and acknowledge — the end of benign neglect policies.
Pastor Andre’ M. Boyd is the founder and pastor of Tuviah Christian Ministries. He and his wife, Leona (Sunshine) Boyd, are also part of the Fellowship of Prophetic Churches and Ministries based in Northern Virginia. Their son Jordan serves in the United States Air Force where, as a family, they reside in Clearfield, Utah.